Hancock County

Bay St. Louis mayor plans to veto bond claims



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 Bay St. Louis Mayor Les Filingame listens at a City Council meeting on Oct. 20.
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD/FILE Bay St. Louis Mayor Les Filingame listens at a City Council meeting on Oct. 20. SUN HERALD

BAY ST. LOUIS -- Mayor Les Fillingame said he plans to veto the City Council's vote to file a claim against his surety bond. The council's measure is an effort to recoup more than $300,000 owed to a U.S. Department of Justice forfeitures account.

Fillingame said he sent a letter to the council Friday, notifying them of his intent to reject two motions that passed unanimously Tuesday.

The first was to transfer about $300,000 from the city's reserve fund to the DOJ equitable-sharing account, which the council refers to as the "DOJ fund." The second motion was to file bond claims against Fillingame, former City Clerk Katherine Smith and former City Clerk David Kolf, and a liability insurance claim on the city's independent fiscal auditor, Wright, Ward, Hatten and Guel.

Municipal officials who handle money are required to take out a surety bond, which ensures against unfaithful performance of the official's duties. Fillingame and the clerks each have a $100,000 bond.

The council's actions came after a final accounting report was delivered during Tuesday's meeting that revealed the city owed about $321,000 to the DOJ fund, which was designated to contain money seized during joint operations between federal and municipal law enforcement agencies. Fillingame said the council's moves to transfer money were premature.

"There was some guidance we got from the DOJ Wednesday that any transferring of money would be premature," he said. "There was one more step to the corrective action process. They want to review the independent auditor's report to make the final decision."

He said the DOJ wants to review the findings of Becky Hammond, an auditor hired to investigate the forfeitures account, and issue a final directive before the city takes any corrective action.

The DOJ also wants to issue the directives through Bay St. Louis Police Chief Mike De Nardo because the forfeitures fund is intended to benefit the police department, the mayor said.

"The chief will make any requests for money to be transferred," Fillingame said. "Based on the most current guidance we've gotten from them, they're saying, 'Don't do anything.' In fact, they were a little taken aback by (the council's actions)."

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